This is apparent from the ‘China Science Investigation’, a major investigation into 350,000 scientific publications by a group of European journalists, Follow the Money and RTL Nieuws.
This concerns scientific knowledge for weapon technology, unmanned vehicles (drones), robotics and semiconductors, such as chips. Knowledge that China itself does not have but is necessary for the country’s ambition to be the largest military superpower in the world by 2049.
Since the turn of the century, this concerns almost three thousand studies (2,994) in which European universities collaborate with Chinese military scientists.
European cooperation with universities of the Chinese army
Military World Power in 2049
Universities from Great Britain have the closest links with Chinese military universities. Almost half (1,389) of all studies are accounted for. Germany is in second place with 349 studies. Dutch universities are in third place with 288 publications.
When President Xi Jinping took office at the end of 2012, China was lagging far behind the West technologically. Since then, China has been investing in the development of its universities and cooperation with foreign countries to acquire knowledge there.
The communist country wants to be economically and militarily independent from the west by 2049. And this requires ‘high-quality knowledge and technology for the development of the armed forces’.
In 2010, the General Intelligence and Security Service AIVD already ‘actively warned’ universities about scientific espionage from China.
But that warning has had little effect, because since 2013 there has been a sharp increase in the number of joint publications between Chinese military universities and Dutch universities.
Number of studies shows an increase
Collaboration generates money
“This kind of scientific research is at the service of China’s defense apparatus,” says Danny Pronk, defense expert at the Clingendael Institute. The knowledge gained here is used for the ‘modernization and development of the People’s Liberation Army of China’.
For a long time, universities saw cooperation with China as an opportunity and it also brings in a lot of money. “We were pretty naive about that,” says Pronk. “Now the security aspects of that collaboration are becoming more tangible and insightful, but we have not faced that for a long time.”
‘Stricter rules needed’
The vast majority of studies (2,210) were conducted together with military scientists from the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT). China’s main military university, which is under the direct authority of the Chinese military and President Xi Jinping.
“I fear that vital technology and knowledge has already been leaked. On some fronts it may already be too late,” says Pronk. “The modernization of the Chinese army has taken off enormously in the past ten years. The Netherlands must determine much more strictly in which fields it is and is not allowed to collaborate with Chinese scientists.”
In a response, Dutch universities let it be known that they value academic freedom, but also that in recent years they have indeed paid attention to the risk of high-tech knowledge leaking away.